Brittany and Robert Stevens and the Nashville man who had accused them of breaking state campaign finance laws have agreed to drop their legal claims.
The Stevens siblings filed an agreed final order Tuesday in the Fifth Circuit Court for Davidson County, in effect dropping a defamation lawsuit against Tony Sees, who in turn dropped his ethics complaint with state election officials. Sees had previously tried to drop his ethics complaint before the lawsuit had been filed.
Brittany Stevens is Smyrna Town court clerk. Her brother, Robert Stevens, is a lawyer and a Rutherford County commissioner.
The agreement included provisions that both sides release one another from all claims. Sees avoided all liability – he had been sued for $150,000, and he was not found liable for any wrongdoing. The plaintiff will pay all court costs. The agreement ended the matter just before a scheduled Friday court hearing.
Daniel A. Horwitz, the attorney representing Sees, said he was “very pleased” with the outcome.
The agreement releases “John Does” from claims. Robert Stevens had previously said he believed one or more unknown people were involved in working with Sees in making the claim.
However, regarding the John Does, Robert Stevens said the agreement dismissed claims against them "without prejudice," meaning further action could possibly be taken.
”There are still many unanswered questions about the origin of the ethics complaint, and we do intend to further investigate these matters," Stevens said.
Brittany Stevens’ defamation lawsuit against Sees was in response to his filing a complaint with the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics & Campaign Finance Ethics Commission accusing, among other things, the town court clerk of not disclosing as a source of income her alleged compensation from her brother’s Stevens & Stevens PLLC law firm on her 2019 statement of disclosure form. The complaint also said Robert Stevens certified the form as true, according to the lawsuit.
Robert Stevens issued this joint statement for both sides: “The matters between Smyrna Court Clerk Brittany Stevens and Tony Sees have now, by agreement of Ms. Stevens and Mr. Sees, been concluded. Mr. Sees, through counsel, submitted a letter to the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance Ethics Commission completely withdrawing and closing his Ethics Complaint against Ms. Stevens and her brother, Rutherford County Commissioner Robert Stevens, as the Ethics Complaint is without merit, and Ms. Stevens has dismissed him from the corresponding civil lawsuit in Davidson County Circuit Court. The Tennessee Ethics Commission has now officially dismissed the underlying ethics complaint and closed this matter as to both Clerk Brittany Stevens and Commissioner Robert Stevens. Mr. Sees has apologized for the Ethics Complaint and acknowledges that he was wrong in its original filing. Clerk Brittany Stevens and Commissioner Robert Stevens certainly accept Mr. Sees’ apology and appreciate his efforts to remedy this situation to allow everyone to move forward.”
Sees had filed to dismiss the lawsuit based on the Tennessee Public Participation Act. The act is a new “anti-SLAPP” law, according to the website for Horwitz, a Nashville-based First Amendment and speech defense lawyer. SLAPP refers to “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” The act basically gives more protection to Tennessee citizens in speech-based lawsuits, such as defamation lawsuits. Anti-SLAPP laws are meant to stop “baseless lawsuits”, provide a way to punish people who file frivolous speech-based lawsuits and help defendants recover attorney’s fees and court costs.